UNIONDALE, N.Y. — The New York Islanders had been very happy to see the Carolina Hurricanes in their previous meetings this season. They began the year with a home-and-home sweep of the last-place Hurricanes (24-30-7) and rebounded from a tough home loss to their biggest rivals (the New York Rangers) with a three-goal win in Carolina the next night, on Feb. 17.
But the Islanders (41-21-2) couldn’t weather the Hurricanes’ four-goal, second-period barrage during a 5-3 loss at the Nassau Coliseum on Saturday evening.
Center Jay McClement scored two goals, and moments after left winger Nikolay Kulemin brought New York within a score late in the second period, center Brad Malone and defenseman Michal Jordan added goals 2:06 apart, in the final 2:14 of the same frame, to give Carolina a cushion that was too much for the Metropolitan Division-leading Islanders (84 points) to overcome.
Right winger Michael Grabner got New York on the board first, with a goal in the opening period and center John Tavares gave the Islanders some hope on a goal with 10:25 left, but the Hurricanes clamped down defensively and weren’t seriously threatened thereafter.
Filling in one night after starter Jaroslav Halak set a franchise record with his 33rd win of the season, backup goalie Chad Johnson (8-8-1) allowed five goals for a fifth time this year, while playing in his 19th game and making his 17th start of the season.
Carolina, which registered 30 shots by the midpoint of the game and outshot New York, 41-24, tested Johnson early with the game’s first 10 shots before center Frans Nielsen finally registered the Islanders’ first shot after 5:01.
Things evened out for the rest of the period, during which New York held a slim 9-8 shot edge and was tied up on McClement’s first goal.
Before that, right winger Alexander Semin went off for hooking, with 12:32 left in the opening period, to give the Islanders the game’s first power play (their only one of the game), but New York was only able to muster a single harmless shot on net with five seconds left on the man advantage.
Conversely, the Hurricanes were 2-for-5 on the power play, scoring on each of their first two chances.
“You can’t give up two power play goals and expect to win,” head coach Jack Capuano said.
Capuano’s counterpart, head coach Bill Peters, was pleased with his team’s power play, even if it tailed off following a hot start.
“It was good,” he said. “It was 2-for-2 out of the gate… when the game was on the line, the power play was good.”
Earlier, passes by defenseman Johnny Boychuk (two assists) and center Ryan Strome in the Islanders’ zone, set Grabner up to streak along the left side from mid-ice, before he blasted the shot into the upper right corner of the net, to put New York up, 1-0, with 8:13 left in the first period.
Missing a good chance to extend the Islanders’ lead with about four minutes left in the frame, right winger Cal Clutterbuck moved in along the left side after a Hurricanes turnover, and had consecutive chances in front, but was denied by goaltender Cam Ward (17-19-4), who made 21 saves.
Less than two minutes later, Carolina got its first score when Johnson stopped a close-range shot by McClement with his left pad. But as McClement’s momentum carried him past Johnson, the puck deflected off of his right skate and into the net, to tie the game, 1-1, with 2:19 to play in the stanza.
The home crowd repeatedly chanted “No goal!” in step with the organist as the play was under review. But the referees did not agree, which drew expected disapproval from the Coliseum faithful.
Islanders fans jeered for an entirely different reason after Carolina broke the game open with three more goals in the period to lead 5-2, before New York headed to its locker room for the second intermissions under a chorus of boos.
Starting the second period much like the first, the Hurricanes (who sit 29 points behind the division rival Islanders) had six of the first seven shots of the frame, with the last two of those producing the Hurricanes’ first lead on their initial power play.
After defenseman Thomas Hickey was called for interference 58 seconds into the period, center Jordan Staal’s shot from the right circle was saved by Johnson and caromed to the opposite circle, where defenseman Justin Faulk fired a shot past Johnson to give Carolina its first lead, 2-1, just 1:26 into the period.
Later, after a puck was dumped into the Islanders’ end, center Nathan Gerbe pinned defenseman Travis Hamonic against the left boards, center Andrej Nestrasil set McClement up for a slapshot that beat Johnson to double the Hurricanes’ lead to 3-1 with 10:10 remaining in the stanza.
New York got back in the game a little more than five minutes later. Off of passes from Clutterbuck and Hamonic, Kulemin moved along the right boards in the Carolina zone and fought off Faulk before closing in on Ward to score up high with 4:49 left in the period, to cut the Islanders’ deficit in half, at 3-2.
But the Hurricanes regained a two-goal edge when defenseman John-Michael Lies passed to Nestrasil, whose shot from the left circle squirted through Johnson’s legs. The puck sat inches in front of the goal line before Malone was able to poke it into the net, with 2:14 left in the period.
“Kumelin’s goal is a big one,” Capuano said. “We’ve got the momentum, the crowd’s into it and then that fourth [Carolina goal]… in the second [period] kind of hurt us.”
Cashing in on another power play after a high-sticking penalty on Strome, Carolina used some crisp passing to take a three-goal lead just before the period expired. A short pass from center Jeff Skinner to Staal, who made a nice centering pass, gave Jordan an easy scoring chance to Johnson’s right, which Jordan had no problem taking advantage of, with only 7.8 seconds left in the frame.
Although the Hurricanes slowed down with only five third-period shots, the Islanders were limited to the same amount of shots in the stanza.
But New York closed within two goals when a shot Ward couldn’t contain a shot from defenseman Nick Leddy at the point. The rebound was put in by Tavares, who became Islanders’ first 30-goal scorer this season while tying three other players for the NHL lead in points with 64.
However, just 52 seconds later, New York’s lack of focus through too much of the game was evident when the Islanders were whistled for having too many men on the ice.
By the time New York killed off that penalty, there were only about 7½ minutes left, and Carolina was able to sit back and protect its lead the rest of the way.
Afterwards, Peters noted some key differences in what the Hurricanes were able to accomplish compared to their previous three games against the Islanders.
“The pace of the game [was better for us], how we made more plays coming out of our end,” he said. “So we had D-zone transition and we were able to spend some time in the offensive zone… we spent some time down there wearing some people out.”
Capuano wouldn’t blame New York’s second opening face-off within 22 hours, with an off 5 p.m. start time, after a home win over Calgary the night before.
“You’ve got to get ready as a player and be ready to go. For whatever reason, certain guys didn’t have some jump tonight.”
Instead, Capuano focused on some bad luck which prevented his team from tying things up after Kulemin’s goal.
“Again, even though we didn’t have [enough energy], and as bad as we were, it’s 3-2,” he said. “It’s right there… two or three guys hit skates right in front on empty netters in the second period [with chances] to tied the game. It was just one of those nights.”
Johnson and left winger Matt Martin felt that a lack of urgency, perhaps taking Carolina for granted, was New York’s biggest problem.
“Obviously, they’re a lower ranked team and maybe you underestimate how hard they’re gonna come out,” Johnson said. “I don’t think we were worried too much about them. It’s think it was just that we weren’t ready with our game… we didn’t play a good game. They just seemed to have more jump than we did.”
Martin agreed, while echoing his coach’s sentiments that the Islanders had no excuse for being flat.
“It’s a disappointing effort,” he said. “It stings because this was one we needed to win. I don’t want to use a hectic schedule as an excuse because Carolina played (at home) last night and had to fly in here. We were already at home. If anything, they should have been the more tired club. We just didn’t have energy tonight for whatever reason and we’ve got to get back on track.”
After finishing a disappointing homestand just 2-2, the Islanders will embark on a four-game road trip beginning in Dallas on Tuesday, before they make stops in Nashville, Florida and Toronto.